We often romanticize our childhood, seeing it through a scrim of bowling parties, Good Humor trucks, and Wacky Packages. We forget that Bubble Yum poisoned us with spider eggs, Pop Rocks threatened our survival, and the modulated <bloop> of filmstrips sapped the very will from our bodies. The latest evidence of this phenomenon turned up last night. As with all that's good and true in the world, it came courtesy of my Tivo <genuflect> which, in light of recent recordings of The Simpsons, Monsters Inc, and Lilo & Stitch, decided I might enjoy an episode of The Superfriends.
Ah, the Superfriends. Despite my allegiance to the Marvel Comics line and general disdain for D.C., I was a devotee as a child. Don't get me wrong-- I watched Spiderman ("Is he strong? Listen, bud-- he's got radioactive blood!"), the 60's Marvel cartoons-- Captain America, Thor, even (yawn) Sub-Mariner. But if you parked your tuchus in front of the TV on Saturday morning, the highlight was The Superfriends. I watched religiously, even through the inexplicable "Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog" period (I always figured the only reason a jerk like Marvin got to hang with the Superfriends was that Robin was boinking Wendy. "Hey Marvin, why don't you come check out the groovy pad me and my friends have. Oh, and bring your hot sister along.").
Things definitely improved with the arrival of the Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna. Zan really got shafted in the super powers department though. "Form of... water!"? Oooooh, that'll have Riddler and Gorilla Grodd cowering in their boots. Still, we forgave a lot thanks to that killer catch phrase: "Wonder Twin powers... ACTIVATE!" That phrase rang out in schoolyards nationwide and, twenty-five years later, can still be heard during geek foreplay across America.
The Superfriends didn't become Must See TV until The Legion of Doom came along and the show morphed into Challenge of the Superfriends. Lex Luthor's band of archvillains (apparently all of Batman's A-list enemies had other engagements, and the best Lex could manage was... Toyman?! A third-rate effete poseur who never even made it onto the 60's Batman camp-fest-- and even Liberace took a shot at the Caped Crusaders there. Granted, killer toys are pretty cool to a kid, but Solomon Grundy should have pounded this loser into paste the second he opened his mouth) operated from a swampy Vaderesque HQ. To help stop them, the Superfriends ditched the Wonder Twins and "space monkey" Gleep in favor of Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, and the Affirmative Action Trio of Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, and Samurai ("Look ma, we're diverse!"). Less air time for Aquaman? Now we're talkin'.
So I settled in to watch as The Legion of Doom tricked the Superfriends into changing the Earth's environment to more closely resemble that of Venus (which-- alert NASA-- is apparently a humid fern-covered swampball) so that Venus' native three-headed Fearians (why not Venusians?) could invade, turning Earth into a Venusian colony and ceding dominion over Earthlings to Lex and his cronies. And one of the foundations of my childhood crumbled.
It sucked. Really, really sucked. The story sucked. The dialogue sucked. The art sucked. The animation sucked. It Supersucked.
More than that, it displayed an egregious contempt for verisimilitude of any kind as if the writers, too lazy or underpaid to do the job right, simply decided that the kids would never know the difference and knocked off early to spend the rest of the day knocking back Billy Beers at the disco. That they were correct only makes it more galling.
Here's an example. The Justice Computer alerts the Superfriends to the impending impact of six meteors with the Earth. Green Lantern sees that they were sent by his nemesis Sinestro and heads into space to stop them. Now, I love Green Lantern. He's a walking deus ex machina-- he can do practically anything he wants with that spiffy power ring. But he's apparently not the sharpest tool in the shed. GL's ring can't affect anything yellow (so why doesn't Sinestro walk around in a yellow body suit? If I were Sinestro, I'd do it just to piss Green Lantern off) and, wouldn't you know it, the meteors are yellow. You'd think maybe he should have noticed that on the Justice Computer's screen and perhaps sent Superman to handle it instead. A simple trade. "Hey Supes-- be a bud and fill in for me on this one, and I'll take the next maniac with a Kryptonite pelvis." Maybe Superhero union regs dictate that any threat from a hero's nemesis may only be met by that hero. "Giganta's stomping tourists in Central Park? Ooh, love to help you, but my hands are tied. Union rules. You need Apache Chief. Sorry, he's off on weekends. Try back on Monday." So GL reaches orbit and finally notices the yellow problem. Since he can't affect the meteors, he does the next best thing-- he moves the Earth out of the way. Earthquakes? Tidal waves? Gravitational shear? Of course not-- the kiddies wouldn't understand. Worse, GL isn't just a color blind idiot, he's a slob. He doesn't put the Earth back where he found it. Let that be a lesson to you, kids-- always replace what you take, or else the ambient temperature of the Earth will increase by a few degrees and the Venusians will enslave you. I won't even get into the problems inherent in later plot developments, when the Justice Computer determines that unless the environmental changes to the Earth are corrected within 15 minutes, they'll become irreversible ("Terminal radiation exposure in 15 minutes, Captain.").
How did I watch-- even crave-- this crap? Compare it to today's crop of animated superhero fare: Batman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, X-Men Unleashed, and most tellingly The Justice League. These modern shows display remarkable production quality and sophistication. They manage to respect the viewer while entertaining him. Adults can enjoy these shows without irony. Twenty-five years from now, today's children will be able to look back on them and find that they hold up.
Is that so much to ask from one's childhood?